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Bill To Revise Holocaust Classes

Bowing to protests from Jewish organizations, two Illinois state legislators have altered their proposal to include contemporary examples of genocide in mandatory Holocaust education courses.

Jewish organizations were troubled last week over House Bill 312, a measure that would amend the state’s groundbreaking 15-year-old law requiring Holocaust education in public schools. In particular, critics complained that the proposed legislation would replace the word “Holocaust” with “genocide” in the law’s title, and delete some references to the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis.

After meeting with Jewish organizational officials, the co-sponsors of the bill — Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat, and Rep. Paul Froehlich, a Schaumburg Republican — reinstated the old wording. The updated version of their bill, which was to be introduced this week during a meeting of the State House’s education committee, still will require public schools to teach about more recent examples of genocide in addition to the Holocaust. The measure still would require the approval of the full legislature.

For now, all sides are expressing satisfaction with the new version of the bill.

“We believe that the re-draft, as it now stands, is clear and unambiguous — that the addition of genocide is indeed an addition to the existing and reinforced mandate of Holocaust education,” said Richard Hirschhaut, executive director of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois.

“What we wanted to be certain of was that as the original bill was amended, it would not be interpreted to imply that Holocaust education has moved from a mandate to one of seven or eight optional menu items that school districts or teachers could choose from,” said Jay Tcath, director of Chicago’s Jewish Community Relations Council.

Fritchey said that his intention was never to de-emphasize the Holocaust by calling for attention on atrocities in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. “The genesis of the amendment to the legislation was that the teaching of the Holocaust shouldn’t just be a lesson in remembrance, but a continuing and living endeavor,” he told the Forward.

The Democratic lawmaker said that he didn’t confer with Jewish groups before writing the original bill, because he saw no need at the time. A January 25 article in the Chicago Sun-Times reported that critics had “blasted” the legislation, but Jewish groups later denied being outraged and praised Fritchey for consulting them during a second go-around.

“[Fritchey] didn’t get his ducks in order, and it happens to the best of us,” Hirschhaut said.

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